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Three...Extremes

Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 10/28/05 00:26:59

"You might want to skip the post-film Chinese dinner"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Anthology films, especially the ones that feature contributions from a variety of directors, are rarely satisfying. First, it can be jarring to be involved in one story, only to suddenly be plunged into something completely different twenty minutes later. The stories usually tend to be little more than half-baked ideas–after all, if they were better than that, the filmmakers would presumably save them for a feature-length treatment. Most significantly, there is always the sense that the various filmmakers involved are less concerned with how the film as a whole flows together than in how their individual segments have turned out. Sure, there is the occasional successful anthology (“Creepshow” and “Eros” come to mind) but most of them (think of “Twilight Zone,” “New York Stories” or “Four Rooms”) tend to have only one or two good bits surrounded by a lot of filler. The new Asian horror anthology “Three...Extremes,” on the other hand, is a cut above most films of its type–there is more cohesion between the three stories on display, none of them are dogs and one, in fact, is pretty close to being a modern masterpiece.

The film is being sold to Western audiences primarily on the cult popularity of two of the three directors involved–Japan’s insanely prolific Takashi Miike and South Korea’s Chan-wook Park (best known for his international hit “Oldboy”). Miike’s is a restrained story about a woman being haunted by the ghosts of her past and is probably the closest thing to a traditional spook story on display here. Park’s contributions, on the other hand, is a reasonably gripping mind-bender about an acclaimed director being put through some grisly paces by an extra. Both are pretty good exercises but it turns out that it is the least-known director of the bunch, Hong Kong’s Fruit Chan, who knocks it out of the park with his jaw-dropping contribution, “Dumplings.”

In this astonishing blend of Swiftian social satire with the likes of “The Leech Woman” and “Wasp Woman,” a vain woman of a certain age (Miriam Yeung Chin-wah) goes to a mysterious cook (Bai Ling) who sells dumplings with astonishing rejuvenating powers–the catch is that they are filled with an ingredient that is both horrific to contemplate and plentiful thanks to a certain Chinese law. The woman is willing to overlook the contents once she gets a load of the effect that they have on her appearance. (In one of the funnier jokes, people rave about her appearance even though the difference is negligible at best.) Unfortunately, there is something wrong with the latest batch of the secret ingredient and the results are dire. This segment (which I understand is a cut-down version of a feature-length version that I hope gets distribution in the states–and not simply because it apparently involves at least one extended sex scene involving Bai Ling) does what the best horror films have always done–it tells a story that is admittedly creepy and disgusting while still giving viewers something of substance to chew on afterwards. Love it or hate it, “Dumplings” is the kind of film that, once seen, will not be forgotten by anyone who encounters it. Best of all, I cannot imagine anyone even attempting to do a Westernized remake anytime in this millennium.

One of the best films to come out of the recent Asian horror boom, “Three...Extremes” is a must for genre buffs looking for something to do this Halloween

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